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Gazeta Wyborcza, Poland

The Four Labors of Obama

By Mariusz Zawadzki

Before he can take care of the matters concerning his favorite area [Asia Pacific], there are a few substantial problems in other parts of the world that need to be addressed, starting in Washington.

Translated By Maciej Lepka

10 November 2012

Edited by Lau­ren Gerken

Poland - Gazeta Wyborcza - Original Article (Polish)

During his second term as president, Obama faces four serious challenges, namely, the nuclear potential of Iran, post-American Afghanistan, the growing power of China and finding a worthy successor for Hillary Clinton.

On Wednesday morning, President Obama called 13 world leaders. “In each call, he thanked his counterpart for their friendship and partnership thus far and expressed his desire to continue close cooperation moving ahead” – reads the official White House statement.

This number turned out to be unlucky for Poland, as Bronisław Komorowski was not contacted. The list of lucky winners of a presidential phone call included the leaders of France, Germany, Great Britain, NATO, Brazil, Columbia, Canada, Australia, India, Egypt, Israel, Saudi Arabia and Turkey. In summation: four European countries, two South American countries and four representatives of the Middle East.

Were it not for the fact that the Asia-Pacific region, the focal point of national foreign policy, is vastly underrepresented (probably due to the time-zone difference or the convention of the Communist Party Congress in China), the list could serve as a faithful reflection of foreign activities under the Obama administration. As both the president and his secretary of state, Hillary Clinton, have patiently repeated, the fate of the world and the future of the U.S. will be no longer decided in Europe or the Middle East, but in the Pacific Basin.

Having been born in Hawaii and, as a child, having lived with his mother in Indonesia for a number years, Obama is the first American president whose understanding of that region is better than his understanding of Europe. Nevertheless, before he can take care of the matters concerning his favorite area, there are a few substantial problems in other parts of the world that need to be addressed, starting in Washington.

Finding a Worthy Successor to Hillary Clinton

The secretary of state has been announcing her retirement for a long time. It is common knowledge that she intends to relax, write a book and, as rumor has it, prepare for the 2016 presidential campaign. Hillary’s successor will have a hard time matching her skills; although, the secretary of state is leaving the department with a blemished reputation. On Sept. 11, Islamic fundamentalists attacked the U.S. consulate in Libyan Benghazi resulting in the death of the U.S. ambassador, Chris Stevens, and three of his colleagues. It is known that, in the weeks prior to the attack, the diplomats had been informing Washington that safety measures were insufficient. An investigation is currently underway, but it goes without saying that the State Department is to blame and its leader has to take political responsibility. Presumably, some fault might also lie with the murdered ambassador. If he was concerned about his safety, he should not have left Tripoli and gone to Benghazi during the period when many Muslim countries were protesting the YouTube video that ridicules the prophet Mohammed. John Kerry, the Democratic runner-up in the 2004 presidential election, and Susan Rides, the U.S. ambassador to the U.N. are most frequently mentioned as Hillary Clinton’s possible successor.

Curbing Iran’s Nuclear Threat

So far, Obama’s long-term strategy, outside of the United Nations, is to form the broadest possible coalition that will join and support the U.S. sanctions against Iran. This will undoubtedly be effective.

Since the European Union, under pressure from Washington, ceased to buy Iranian oil, the ayatollahs have had no luck in finding another costumer. Currently, they do not even have any place to store the oil. Their income from oil exports has dropped by half. The Persian Gulf is crammed with tankers full of oil circling around without a destination. Next, Obama will probably try to convince India, Japan and South Korea not to buy Iranian oil. Should he succeed, the authorities in Tehran will surely find themselves in hot water.

Shortly before the election, rumors circulated of secret talks held between representatives of the U.S. and Iran, which could mean that the ayatollahs have conceded. However, there is also a possibility that they will follow in the footsteps of North Korea, continuing their nuclear program despite growing isolation, economic catastrophe and impoverishment. If so, Obama will find yet another problem on his plate, namely, how to deal with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who has been an ardent supporter of bombing Iranian nuclear facilities. It is well known that the Obama-Netanyahu rapport is cool, to say the least. The main cause of this rocky relationship – Netanyahu’s unwillingness to negotiate peace with Palestine – has been set aside in the face of Iran’s nuclear threat, the liberation of Egypt from the Muslim Brotherhood and the civil war in Syria. To deal with these difficulties, Obama and Netanyahu’s only option is to cooperate.

Withdrawing from Afghanistan

This task is just as challenging as the issue of Iran, but fortunately for Obama, less critical. Although, nobody dares say it aloud, the war in Afghanistan is probably the biggest defeat of the president’s first term. Obama sent additional tens of thousands of U.S. troops and declared war on the Taliban movement. Vice President Joe Biden tried to persuade Obama that the several thousand U.S. Special Forces and CIA agents already present in Afghanistan were sufficient and that it was wiser to focus on terrorists hiding in Pakistan and leave the Taliban be, but his advice fell on deaf ears. Three years later, it seems that Biden has the right to say “I told you so.” The Taliban are still thriving, and the number of American soldiers killed by alleged allies – Afghani soldiers and policemen, who spontaneously open fire or blow themselves up among the Americans – has been consistently growing this year. Obama is adamant that U.S. troops will withdraw from Afghanistan by 2014. In the process, he must not allow the Taliban to regain power, as it would be both humiliating and dangerous for the U.S. But so far, he seems to be at a loss as to how to pull that off.

Containing China

At the moment, the issue with China is not one of geopolitical rivalry; contrary to the USSR, China has no intention of sending troops to other countries and establishing puppet leaders. The country’s foreign policy is much more subtle and is oriented mainly toward economic and trade benefits. During the U.S. presidential campaign, Obama was widely criticized by Republicans for not declaring trade war on China, which would purposefully devalue its currency, and keeping the price of Chinese products competitive, resulting in the export of U.S. jobs to China. Admittedly, trade war is probably an exaggeration, but nevertheless, Obama will need to take action.



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